Disturbia (2007) / Thriller-Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, some sensuality, and language (on appeal from an original R rating)
Running Time: 104 min.

Cast: Shai LaBeouf, Sarah Roemer, Carrie-Anne Moss, David Morse, Aaron Yoo, Jose Pablito Cantillo, Viola Davis
Director: D.J. Caruso
Screenplay: Christopher Landon, Carl Ellsworth

Review published April 15, 2007

Hitchcock's Rear Window gets an update for the mostly teenage crowd unfamiliar with the Master's work, and while it falls far short of the sheer pleasure of its inspiration, it retains enough of the formula to engage as an entertaining paranoid thriller with laughs and chills doled out in equal measure.  That's not the only film that Disturbia lifts ideas from; it also borrows from other movies that have taken Rear Window's core element of mystery and murder in the house of the neighbor next door, most notably in The 'burbs and Body Double, with its emphasis on sexiness and some darkly disturbing subject matter that keeps the sights titillating and the atmosphere creepy.  It's not the most intelligent thriller you're likely to see this year, but it is modest fun, and provides plenty of watchable escapism for those afternoons where you just want a few sexy scares.

After losing his father in an auto accident, 17-year-old Kale (LaBeouf, Bobby) is having a difficult time adjusting to real life again, with the pressures of coping culminating in assaulting his teacher in the middle of Spanish class.  The incident lands Kale three months of house arrest, where he must spend every day of his summer confined to the grounds of his family home, With his mother at work, and best friend, Ronnie (Yoo, "The Bedford Diaries"), in Hawaii for a good part of it, he is bored out of his skull.  That is, until he gets new neighbors who have a daughter about his age, Ashley (Roemer, The Grudge 2), who he becomes quite enamored of voyeuristically looking at from the privacy of his own bedroom window -- she catches him (as well as recently-returned Ronnie) in the act of watching, and the trip become friends.  Meanwhile, news reports of a missing woman begin appearing on the TV, and Kale starts to suspect that creepy neighbor, Mr. Turner (Morse, 16 Blocks), whose behavior is very suspicious, may be the suspect the police are actively searching for.

Disturbia benefits from a good cast of young actors (especially the charismatic LaBeouf in the lead), with veterans like David Morse and Carrie-Anne Moss (Mini's First Time, Snow Cake) chipping in.  The direction by D.J. Caruso, who has earned a reputation for a good visual style in such thrillers as Taking Lives and The Salton Sea, keeps the pacing brisk and always moving forward to the next step in the plot before we have a chance to think about the implausibility and nonsensical nature of the mystery at hand.  It's not very high on overall suspense, as Morse's Mr. Turner is just too creepy to not think that something strange is going on in his house, even if that something isn't murder.  However, Caruso and screenwriters Landon (Another Day in Paradise) and Ellsworth (Red Eye) aren't exactly setting their sights too high, employing a mixture of teen comedies, romance, and paranoid thriller elements solely to deliver escapist cheap thrills.

Most of the romance and humor stops as the film reaches its more serious climax (becoming a Silence of the Lambs homage with John Wayne Gacy allusions), with Ronnie poking around in the Turner residence in order to scratch up some evidence, while Kale's mother, who has befriended the intense bachelor, also heads inside, while Kale can only watch in despair.  Even if the fun stops, the characters have been properly set up such that the resulting suspense delivers the necessary tension to help the film coast to its inevitable confrontation between Kale and Turner, the boy who has often cried wolf and the man who just wants to be left alone.  With so many teen thrillers taking the route of bad, sensationalist horror, it's nice to see a standard suspense vehicle come out once in a while, with better characterizations and fright earned through putting characters in potential jeopardy, rather than just cheap jump-scares and shrill music. 

Disturbia is an old-school thriller for a modern generation, perfectly capturing the lack of privacy inherent in the technological advancements of this era's teenagers.  Web cams, PCs, mp3 players, cell phones, digital cameras, and video sharing sites like YouTube are all within easy reach of most teenagers at any time, exchanging information with just about everyone with the click of a button.  You can't do anything these days without someone potentially capturing it and disseminating it for all the world to see -- it's no wonder the youth are so paranoid.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo